Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jessica Berry's letter to the UNLV Board of Regents

UNLV is planning to respond to the fiscal situation in Nevada by simply eliminating the philosophy department and the women's studies department. Anything I wrote about this would be less eloquent than what Jessica Berry wrote, so let me put her letter up:
To the Members of the Board of Regents,

Shortly after being sentenced to death by a jury of his fellow citizens, Socrates observes: "It is for the sake of a short time, gentlemen of the jury, that you will acquire the reputation and the guilt, in the eyes of those who want to denigrate the city, of having killed Socrates, a wise man, for they who want to revile you will say that I am wise even if I am not." You have no doubt heard many defenses recently of the "cash value" of Philosophy as an academic research discipline, and of the claim that Philosophy is the core of the humanities, and of the many ways in which students who are able to study Philosophy as undergraduates are more "well-rounded" and demonstrably more competitive than students in many other disciplines, across and outside of the humanities. All of these things are true and well worth bearing in mind as you confront your state's current fiscal crisis. But consider also Socrates' suggestion: even if none of these things were the case, the reputation of your state, your city, and your university system is likely to suffer just the same. In a state that allows women legally to practice "the oldest profession," you will become known for having killed off a Women's Studies program during International Women's Month, and for having at the same time having focused your efforts solely on ousting your practitioners of the oldest academic profession there is.

Because those who devote their lives to the academy as a career are among the most highly-trained professionals in our country, people whose expertise is not so easily transferred to other places or fields, your administration will become known for having ruined the lives of many faculty members when doing so could certainly have been avoided. The University of Nevada will find it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain excellent faculty members, in any discipline, or to recruit students from out of state. The loss of these programs will outrage alumni, whether or not they studied Philosophy as a major or minor, thereby alienating a number of would-be future contributors to the university. Finally, and most obviously, the intellectual reputation of the university-nationally and internationally-will suffer. What may appear to you to be the loss of one department will have substantial, long-term repercussions for the entire University of Nevada.

When the University System of Georgia faced a proposed second year of $3M cuts, even Republican Governor Sonny Perdue called a halt, saying that he would not allow the Legislature to dismantle a world-class university system that it took generations to build. I can say without exaggeration that I believe the proposal currently under consideration by the Board would clearly have that effect on your institution. I would urge you to look to the solutions adopted by other university systems around the country who have weathered times just as trying as those in Nevada, but without such far-reaching and catastrophic consequences.

Respectfully,
Dr. Jessica N. Berry,
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Georgia State University

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

This joke will be my greatest contribution to early modern scholarship

If Hume were right about the missing shade of blue, it would be a pigment of our imagination.